When I was in high school preparing for college, I always imagined myself studying abroad for at least one semester. I had grown up with a passion for travelling and figured the opportunity to spend an extended period of time abroad would be a phenomenal experience.
Flash forward after a couple of semesters in college, and I had signed myself up for dual enrollment with a plan to finish both degrees in four years. Clearly there was no room for a semester away. However, I happened to transfer into the School of Art & Design the same year they implemented a mandatory “International Experience” requirement for graduation to the incoming students (despite being a sophomore, I fell subject to this new requirement with the freshmen of 2010). The point of this requirement is to force students outside of their comfort zone for a minimum of three weeks; administrators found that the students returned to Michigan more mature and brought their unique experiences back to the university. It turns out this isn’t an uncommon move for university institutions, according to an article in Fox news, which relates the push for study abroad with that for post-secondary education.
Now, the summer before my senior year is fast approaching and when people ask me about my summer plans I grimly tell them, “I have to go abroad for at least three weeks or I won’t graduate next year.” I typically get two responses: “Wow! They can require you to do that?” or “That’s really cool, I always wanted to study abroad; where are you going?” I too share both this anxiety and excitement about this requirement. Sure, it satisfies my yearning to experience life in a foreign country but it also puts a huge burden on my finances and my four-year, dual-degree plan.
My biggest problem with this new requirement is that all the resources available for students list only literally studying abroad programs (totaling roughly $5000-$10000). This means that if, for example, I want to volunteer in Africa for three weeks I would have to find my own program and most likely travel without the comfort of a handful of the university’s faculty and students. So after researching online what seems like hundreds of organizations that coordinate volunteer programs not affiliated with any university, I finally found one that 1) I would feel comfortable travelling and working there alone, 2) is affordable, and 3) is safe (a la travel reviews in articles of the Huffington Post). I only have to get it approved…
While I see the benefits of spending time abroad not just as a tourist, and I can look at my situation as a blessing—being forced to act on and carry out my high school plans to go abroad in college—I cannot escape how easy it is to feel burdened by it. Perhaps this requirement is simply too new, but I believe that if a university requires this kind of experience, they should have as many available resources and options as possible to fulfill it. This would give the student control over what best suits their needs, especially when it comes to time and finances.
By: Rachel Blanzy
(Photo by David Toccafondi under a Creative Commons license)